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Nature. 2012 May 2;485(7396):86-9. doi: 10.1038/nature11084.

Liquid-crystal-mediated self-assembly at nanodroplet interfaces.

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Departamento de Física, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa, Apartado Postal 55-534, México 09340, Distrito Federal, México.


Technological applications of liquid crystals have generally relied on control of molecular orientation at a surface or an interface. Such control has been achieved through topography, chemistry and the adsorption of monolayers or surfactants. The role of the substrate or interface has been to impart order over visible length scales and to confine the liquid crystal in a device. Here, we report results from a computational study of a liquid-crystal-based system in which the opposite is true: the liquid crystal is used to impart order on the interfacial arrangement of a surfactant. Recent experiments on macroscopic interfaces have hinted that an interfacial coupling between bulk liquid crystal and surfactant can lead to a two-dimensional phase separation of the surfactant at the interface, but have not had the resolution to measure the structure of the resulting phases. To enhance that coupling, we consider the limit of nanodroplets, the interfaces of which are decorated with surfactant molecules that promote local perpendicular orientation of mesogens within the droplet. In the absence of surfactant, mesogens at the interface are all parallel to that interface. As the droplet is cooled, the mesogens undergo a transition from a disordered (isotropic) to an ordered (nematic or smectic) liquid-crystal phase. As this happens, mesogens within the droplet cause a transition of the surfactant at the interface, which forms new ordered nanophases with morphologies dependent on surfactant concentration. Such nanophases are reminiscent of those encountered in block copolymers, and include circular, striped and worm-like patterns.

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